Data is an integral part of teaching. Formative assessments — or assessments that teachers use during the teaching in order to see if students are understanding the material — use tiny amounts of data that teachers can immediately access. It is useful for the following reasons:

  1. Teachers can immediately figure out who understands and who doesn’t
  2. Teachers can shift gears mid-lesson in order to address confusion or misunderstanding (especially if you’re using clickers or other technology that provides this information in real time)
  3. Students can immediately know whether or not they understood portions of the lesson

Summative assessments — or assessments that teachers use in order to see if students understood the information after they have finished teaching a particular concept or idea — use a bigger snapshot of data in order to reflect on three things:

  1. The concepts/strategies that needs to be re-taught
  2. The efficacy of the original teaching
  3. The concepts/strategies that students mastered (for both teachers and students)

To read more about formative and summative assessment, click here.

All of these require data in order to reflect on student learning and to reflect on the ability of the teacher to instruct effectively. However, when it comes to the Georgia Milestones assessment, the data is neither timely nor informative.

The data from the Milestones show that students will fit into 4 categories: Beginning Learner, Developing Learner, Proficient Learner, or Distinguished Learner. While there are descriptions for each of these, the data for each student are very superficial. Teachers do not know which areas students were able to master other than a vague “Extended Response” or “Reading and Vocabulary” category.

According to researchers with the National Middle School Association and Measured Progress, “[o]ne of the key components of engaging students in the assessment of their own learning is providing them with descriptive feedback as they learn. In fact, research shows descriptive feedback to be the most significant instructional strategy to move students forward in their learning. Descriptive feedback provides students with an understanding of what they are doing well, links to classroom learning, and gives specific input on how to reach the next step in the learning progression. In other words, descriptive feedback is not a grade, a sticker, or “good job!” A significant body of research indicates that such limited feedback does not lead to improved student learning.”

Teachers and students need to be able to have access to an expanded amount of data in order to more thoroughly reflect on student learning and efficacy of teaching practices. The Georgia Milestones scores did not even arrive in time for some students to receive their scores before the summer holiday — and the scores definitely did not allow teachers and students access to the kind of information that would make them better learners and teachers.

I would like to recommend the following to the Georgia Department of Education regarding the reporting of these Milestones test scores:

  1. Test scores must be returned in a timely fashion this coming school year. Technology glitches are unacceptable and should not be impeding the very thing which it is trying to assess: student learning.
  2. Milestones test scores need to provide an in-depth analysis of each question so that students and teachers can understand the areas that need improvement or that met the standard.
  3. Teachers should be able to view their students’ tests from the previous school year in order to actually use the data to inform their teaching practices for the following school year. Because the tests are standards-based, it would not enable teachers to “teach to the test.” (see #4)
  4. In order to additionally guard against teachers “teaching to the test,” the test-makers for the Milestones test should use similar questions while changing the passages 0r problems from which the questions are taken.

Data is only useful if one can access the data. Without this information, the state is hardly trying to combat the refrain that “students are more than just a number.” In fact, it is confirming it.

As a high school English teacher who would love to improve her ability to teach students how to read and write effectively, I hope that the state of Georgia considers making these changes to the testing process that students and teachers can truly engage in the best practice of using data to reflect. Until this happens, I will continue to feel that our testing process is a waste of time, money, and energy.